Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Monday, June 25, 2012

Names for Games

This week, it's all about fun & games - or rather, Games and something not very funny.

Apple of the Week:

Since last week, there has been a certain amount of – let’s say, kerfuffle – over the use of names for certain events and possible infringements of rights. I don’t want to go into too much detail about it; if you’re on Ravelry, you know already, and if you’re not ... well, you probably don’t care.

Putting it shortly: the USOC (rhymes with ‘you suck’) had an intern, a law student, write a letter to the amazing, brilliant, clever staff at Ravelry (no, they’re not paying me, I mean it!), claiming that the use of the name Ravelympics for the knitting-and-much-more-crafting-event that coincides with the sports event that takes place every 4 years, might be an infringement of trademark rules & regulations, because the word Olympics is trademarked for the specific sports event. (And everybody seeing the name Ravelympics will confuse it with Olympics, because people are stupid – or something like that, I don’t know.) That may be so. I speak several languages, but legalese is not one of them.

The BIG issue with this was that the letter said: ‘We believe using the name “Ravelympics” for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games.  In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.’

No surprise, everybody was outraged and felt that this wording in itself is disrespectful. And it is: crafting takes years of dedicated practice to produce beautiful, unique results. Any knitter/crocheter/spinner/dyer/&c constantly educates her or himself, seeks out new challenges, practices, invents, and spends hours of their life in an ongoing pursuit of their art.
I do not in any way want to denigrate or belittle the dedication and hard work of athletes, Olympic or otherwise. I am a runner – on a definitely non-Olympic scale – and I know (some of) what it takes. And the point is not to say that this is better than that or vice versa.

The event formerly known as the Ravelympics – there is a poll today for the new name! – was created to celebrate the sports event, to play along, as it were. The names of the crafting events, that so got the USOC intern’s panties in a twist are fun, tongue-in-cheek references to the sports events. Running a marathon is a big job: knitting or crocheting an afghan is a big job. Hence ‘Afghan Marathon’. That’s all there is to it.

That said, there are things I don’t get. For one, how can a WORD be trademarked – unless, of course, you made it up? Like, for instance, a compound word, like, say, Ravel-ympics?
Olympic is an adjective derived from Olympos / Olympus, the name of a certain mountain in Greece, where the gods were believed to live, because the mountain is so tall. Other mountains around the world are named after this, including the Olympic Mountains in Washington – the USOC is, by the way, also trying to make companies, restaurants and others in those parts change their names ... But they were there first!
It reminds me of the time when the fast food chain McDonald’s tried to sue an Irish pub in Ireland for being called McDonald’s – and the owners pulled out the registration documents to show that the pub had been in their family before the US even existed.

On the plains below the mountain of the gods was a city, Olympia, and in 776 BCE the first official games were held there in honour of the king of the gods and the god of kings, Zeus.
Later, three other games were initiated: the Isthmian in Korinth (by the isthmus), the Pythian in Delfi, and the Panathenean in Athens. Each of these games was held every four years, alternating so that the Hellenes could travel to games every year, if they so wished (and were able to).
The Olympic Games became the most famous, so much so that the years were counted by them: an Olympiad is the 4-year timespan between two events, and Rome was built not in 753 BCE, as we would say (well, obviously not), but in the 3rd year of the 6th Olympiad.
The games were shut down in the 390’s CE, when Christianity became the only legal religion of the Roman Empire (there’s another story for another day): a self-respecting Christian society can’t have naked people running around in honour of Zeus, now, can they?

We have literary evidence of games from way before the (original) Olympics. The Iliad (by Homer, or not, that is a question for another time) was probably written in the 8th century BCE, around the time of the first Olympic Games, but the story or stories in it are much older, dating back at least to around 1200 BCE, when the city of Troy / Ilion was sacked and destroyed.
The most famous hero of the Iliad, Akhilles, had a companion named Patroklos (and no, Patroklos was NOT Akhilles’ cousin). Patroklos dies in the fighting, sad story, and in book 23 of the Iliad, his funeral is celebrated with games. The sports events, both here and in the later games are clearly of military origin: running, throwing heavy and/or sharp objects, boxing/wrestling, chariot driving &c.

The reason for having sports and games at a funeral is usually interpreted somewhere along these lines:
To the ancient Greeks, there was no reward for dying, young or otherwise: the afterlife takes place – or unplace – in Hades, a realm of shadows and twilight, where you lose your memories and identity. No fun at all. So obviously, the dead man is envious of the living, particularly if he has died too soon, while he was still young. And unhappy dead people tend to haunt the living, which can make their life quite unpleasant.
Now, since the games are a re-enactment of various ways of fighting, they are symbolic of war, which means that the winner of the contest equals the survivor, while the losers are symbolically dead – there are no silver medals here. Thus, the dead man can see that he is not the only one to die, and be less envious and vengeful. Or so we hope ...

Of course, on a more practical and everyday scale, sports is a good way to keep in shape. In later times, when the democratic Athens owned her citizens, it was every man’s duty to keep fit and ready for fighting in the next battle.

On the question of nudity: the story goes that a girl snuck in to the games – normally, women weren’t even allowed to watch – and even won a race. The male contestants were furious, and so the rule of nudity was imposed. It’s kinda hard to disguise your biological gender without any clothes on.
Personally, I think it was as much about the aesthetics. The Hellenic approach to anything incorporates the idea of beauty – and, hey, we’re talking olive-skinned athletes here ...

I have a lot of knitting to tell you about, but not today. Kudos to you, if you have stayed with me so far :o) There will be knitting in a day or two, I promise. With pictures.

Thanks for stopping by; I hope to see you again soon.
Happy knitting!

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